The Art of Intentionalism

Chapter VII:
The Art of Intentionalism

 

Yoga Guru and Montrealer, Kassandra Reinhardt, of Yoga with Kassandra, starts every class with an intention-setting exercise. That intention is meant to guide you through your practice and the rest of your day. In her book, Year of Yoga: Rituals for Every Day and Every Season (2022), she encourages readers to articulate an intention using the following set of questions: “Why am I stepping on my mat today? What motivates me to practice? What does this practice have to teach me?” (18). Most of us have encountered a version of those questions in a yoga class, even sporadic yoga participants like me who bought 10 non-refundable Moksha classes in 2011 that I’m still convinced I’ll use one day. That moment of honesty and vulnerability with yourself can be incredibly daunting. It's common to draw a blank, because the answers to those questions can be quite complicated, and because we don’t take enough time, in our daily lives, to reflect on our intentions. But after all the time we lost to the pandemic, who doesn’t want to treat their time, their interactions, their bodies, their health, their future, with more intention?

 

The beauty of setting intentions is that you can do it anywhere, about anything, and you can do it with one word. One word whispered to yourself can be the difference between writing off the steep face of a mountain as too harrowing to climb or seeing, in the rock, a series of steps to the top. Whether you run, cycle, or practice yoga, setting an intention for yourself that can be stated in a single breath is the mental equivalent of leaving affirmative post-it notes to yourself on the bathroom mirror (it’s also cheaper and more practical: they’ll charge you extra for bringing that bathroom mirror with you to yoga). When you visualize the constellation of words people concentrate on to get through a physical challenge—patience, focus, gratitude, strength, openness, calm, compassion—what emerges is a picture of the mental discipline it takes to dedicate your body and your time to a sport. The mind too is a muscle, sharpened by intention-setting. Over time, with practice, it becomes almost an art: an imaginative activity and act of self-expression that elevates your practice into a meaningful performance beyond the mat, beyond the bike, or beyond the track. People project their stories and experiences into these words, words that carry intentions of every shape and size.  

 

The Dhammapada, a collection of Buddhist verses, teaches that intention always precedes action. Intention in Buddhism is synonymous with volition and directionality. It’s an act of orienting yourself in the world and moving through it in a deliberate way. Intention changes everything, according to the story of the blind monk Cakkhupāla in the Dhammapada. One night, while out on his nightly meditation walk, Cakkhupāla moved rather clumsily through the world it seems and crushed all the insects along his path. The next morning, the other monks discover the trail of dead bugs, like the little monastery detectives that they are, and accuse Cakkhupāla of murder because monks don’t mess around. Buddha, who I’m picturing as Keanu Reeves for some reason, calms everybody down and explains that Cakkhupāla is innocent of the charge since his intention wasn’t to kill bugs but to meditate. The rest of the story quickly degenerates into a Buddhist soap opera when it’s revealed that in another life Cakkhupāla was a doctor who blinded his patients—didn’t see that one coming! But that spicy little twist aside, the tale of Cakkhupāla’s illustrates that the practice of intention is rooted in a discourse that conflates physical paths with spiritual ones. It confirms what so many runners already know, that running and meditation are kindred pathways towards mental transformation.

 

Such a kindship reveals what a powerful conceptual activity intention-setting can be in running. We all know going out for a run requires a lot of mental focus: you have to set your mind to starting a run and finishing it, otherwise you’ll probably do neither. Runners already tend to set intentions for their runs, however big or small, without necessarily realizing it or thinking of it as such. But when runners set intentions for their run with, well, more intentionality, with more sense of what they’re putting forward that day, it illuminates the progress you’re making not just as a runner, but as a person. In that sense, running is a form of meditation in motion: stepping out for a run makes you explore the world outside and the world inside of you; you can cover as much ground mentally as you do physically; you learn to sync your mind and body, to listen to yourself, and to carry your intentions with you wherever you go. We think of meditation as a state of stillness, but the Buddhas lived a wandering life and meditated while walking. Which means running is a kind of super-mobile meditation, a form of super-Buddhism, if you will.
 
No one knows that better than super-Buddhist Bruce Willis. In 1988, Bruce relied solely on  dedication, running skills, and automatic weapons to single-handedly clear an entire high-rise building full of terrorists with impossibly gorgeous hair in a little Christmas miracle known as Die Hard. Bruce didn’t wake up that day with the intention of blowing up an elevator shaft and tossing people out of windows. We know, based on the teddy bear he’s carrying around the airport, that like Cakkhupāla, Bruce made mistakes in the past and certainly isn’t the most thoughtful gift-giver, but he’s no murderer. Does Bruce kill an excessive number of people that day? Yes, 100 percent. But he does it barefoot, running up and down staircase after staircase, glistening with dedication, like a super-Buddha in a tank top. Bruce is proof that you can manifest a ventilation shaft through any obstacle with the right intentions. 

 

Of course, setting an intention doesn’t have to be so extreme. Not everyone is looking to Yippee-ki-yay their way through a life of vigilantism. Some of us would be content with a little Yippee here and a little ki-yay there.  Another lesson we can draw from yoga is that an intention can be a tiny goal. It’s probably always a good idea to direct a little bit of intentionality towards successfully jumping off the roof of Nakatomi Plaza, just in case, but a more modest goal might be to show yourself patience on your next run. Every runner trains to increase their pace, often sooner than they should. By setting an intention of patience instead of speed, runners can maintain a more stable energy throughout their run and minimize feelings of frustration. Developing self-regulation skills through intentionality while running has broad benefits beyond the track in a host of situations that can also quickly drain your energy. With the world almost fully open after such a long period of isolation, for example, socializing again and more frequently can be a stressful prospect. The simple intention of calmness can be a surprisingly effective tool for managing your breathing and staying centered in overwhelming environments. Gratitude is another relatively small gesture around which an everyday run, ride, or yoga practice can suddenly pivot into a social mechanism for understanding positions of privilege like being able-bodied at all, and fortunate enough to forget what a privilege that is in itself.

 

Intention-setting plays a key role in fostering a sense of community in running. Consider, for example, running friends Olivia and Katherine who are currently training for the Toronto Waterfront Marathon. I asked them Kassandra’s three intention-setting questions and learned that, individually, Olivia and Katherine power through their training sessions with the help of slightly different intentions. Olivia sets small, no-pressure goals for herself when it comes to the length of her runs and stays focused mentally on the feeling of relaxation she experiences after a run. Katherine enjoys the romance and rhythms of running through quiet neighbourhoods, the euphoric feeling in her heart, lungs, and muscles, and looks forward to listening to a favourite playlist or podcast. But they also share a common reason for showing up to their runs: their friendship. By signing up to run the Toronto Waterfront Marathon together, Katherine and Olivia knew they could rely on the other for a sense of accountability. Their main reason for stepping out the door and for finding the motivation to run is each other. By respecting each other’s time and intentions, they’re learning about themselves.

 

As with many things viewed through the prism of running, intention-setting is a much more community-oriented habit than one might initially expect. It’s an act of self-care but also of putting goodwill out into the world and of being mindful of our impact on others. In that sense, intention-setting operates according to certain principles of sustainability, renewability, and slower living. PRAISE tries to mirror those principles in its mindful approach to activewear. Whenever and wherever possible, PRAISE takes a moment to step back and operate with intention. For this new chapter, the design team created a colour palette that evokes a lifestyle of presence and awareness, colours such as Mantra, a deep shade of burgundy channeling the magic of personal intention-setting—and the mystical powers of good wine; Salve, a light blue reminder that good intentions can be healing; Butternut, for those relaxing burnt-yellow incense vibes; Coffee, for wakefulness and focus, with a hint of milk for sweetness; and Canvas, a heather cream that celebrates unrealized potential.

 

For running and for PRAISE, that potential is infinite. Running is at the base of all our intentions, just as it is at the base of so many people’s multidisciplinary exercise program. Running can make you a better cyclist, a better boxer, a better yogi, probably even a better competitive eater, if that’s your thing. Running is the guide to a healthy lifestyle and the focus that grounds PRAISE as we continue to strengthen our own intentions and weave them into our ever-evolving mission. We hope you come away from reading our blog inclined to do the same on your next run. Before you start your watch, think of that one word that will set the tone and mood of your practice: patience, gratitude, zen, maybe even self-love. Whatever your practice is, be present in this rare moment with yourself. Leave your worries on the track, the bike, or the mat, so you can be kinder and calmer beyond them, like the super-Buddhist that you are.  

 

Wishing all runners a fun and rewarding race season, a happy end of season to our fierce riders, and a smooth transition to indoor practice to our fellow yogis. If your sport is not mentioned here, don’t feel excluded. Regardless of what you do, keep showing up and pushing your mind and body. And remember to share your accomplishments with your circles, however big or small, because you will inspire others to show up for themselves. Reaching the top of any mountain is an accumulation of small steps. Once your reach the top, you will enjoy an unparalleled view of all the work dedicated to bettering ourselves.

 

Written by Jess Elkaim in collaboration with the designers and creators behind PRAISE ENDURANCE.